Claire Varley’s debut book has been compared to the likes of The Rosie Project. And with good reason, as it features similarly quirky lead characters and is written with the witty whimsy reminiscent of Rosie Project author, Graeme Simsion.
After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.
I was particularly keen to read this book as I spent some time in the Solomon Islands in 2002. I was the Australian-based project manager for a health project and travelled there 4-5 times over the course of the year. I think the longest I spent there was a month… however I didn’t get to travel much as things were starting to become unsettled (pre-Regional Assistance Mission). I did however see enough of the country and its people that I could relate to the world Varley painted.
I found myself constantly transported back to the (ocean-side and hillside) houses I visited when there and the busy streets I walked as Varley creates a strong sense of place.
Although this novel charts the relationship of Oliver and Alison, for me it was very much about Alison. I was in her head the entire time and found her to be realistic and likeable.
As someone who’s lived in a few developing countries I appreciated that Alison took the time to get to know her hosts and their customs and culture. Oliver was very much in his own little world – and I believe Varley has written him thus so that Alison becomes his window to the world outside and (in some ways) conduit to normality.
I enjoyed the story arc as Alison settled into life in the Solomons and Oliver struggled with his novel… eventually finding inspiration via Alison’s exploits.
The support cast was also well developed and again I could relate to the expat / international consultants swarming the place—and the larger-than-life (American contractor) Rick was perfectly drawn in this respect.
But Varley’s passion for the place and people of the Solomon Islands is what really shone through. Through Alison and her friendship with the delightful Sera, we’re privy to the customs and culture of the Sols.
The Bit in Between is essentially a love story, but it’s set in a complex and changing world which impacts on our characters…. well, on one of them and that’s probably why Alison and Oliver start to untangle.
This is a great debut novel and I’m pleased to hear that Varley’s already working on her next book.
The Bit in Between by Claire Varley was released by Pan Macmillan on 1 August 2015.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
PS. Stay tuned for my interview with Claire Varley this coming Friday!
Do you enjoy reading about flawed characters?